Monday, 13 May 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream

Ah Nutella.  Many's the over-heaped spoonful of your intense chocolatey goodness I stole and sucked on whilst watching Ray D'Arcy and the lads on The Den back in the early 90's. I still really like Nutella but don't buy it now for fear of being tempted to recreate my gluttonous post-primary school behaviour so when a jar found its way into the kitchen recently, I decided I'd better get rid of it. Fast.  

So these Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream were my attempt to get my Nutella-hit in a more socially acceptable way and try something new at the same time. (While we're on the subject I am very amused at the efforts made in recent times to market Nutella as a health-food with boasts of "just two whole hazelnuts, some cocoa and some milk in each serving"?! ...(and no mention of the trolley-load of fat and sugar it also contains) -  a pretty wild claim if there ever was one!)

My go-to chocolate cake batter recipe used to be this one by Dan Lepard which yields a good, chocolately result but is a slight palaver to make involving the cooking of the 'custard' batter base on the hob first. This time,  I used my new favourite recipe, for Hershey's 'Black Magic' cake which is super simple to throw together and produces a darkly-coloured and intensely chocolatey cake (or in this case, cupcakes).

However, I think that this particular recipe might not stand up as well in cake form (especially if a heavy layer of fondant is to be added for a celebration cake). Being an oil-based cake, it is feather- light but also very soft and crumbly.  I do love the flavour though so might try it next time with cooled melted butter instead which should set when cooled and make for a sturdier cake.The mixture also contains coffee which ups the darkness factor a lot. This, like this great vanilla cupcake recipe I have featured here before is a really liquid batter and it rises A LOT so don't fill the cases more than halfway to avoid an oven-explosion.

The Hersheys recipe, being American, uses cup measurements which gave me the welcome chance to use my new toys. I ordered these online for just over five pounds sterling from with several other items(some of them bulky) and they arrived here in Dublin within three days and neatly packaged for a p&p charge of just ten pounds. I know we 'should' buy Irish, keep it local. etc but many companies here tend to make that very difficult and exploit the very small market. Comparable sets to that above are on sale in Dublin for over €20 so, until sugarcraft and bakeware shops here offer us Irish customers some better value, I will continue to shop for some of my equipment 'across the water'!

Nutella Buttercream
Makes enough to generously ice 20 good sized cupcakes.

200g Nutella at Room temperature
200g very soft butter
500g icing sugar
75g cocoa powder

1) Mix butter and Nutella until combined (the butter really must be super soft. I usually leave mine beside the hob when doing a good long spell of cooking as 'room temperature' here in Dublin is generally still pretty hard!)

2) Gradually add sieved icing sugar and cocoa powder, mixing well between each addition

3) Pipe or spread onto your fully cooled cakes and enjoy !

Friday, 3 May 2013

Something Lighter - Thai Lettuce Wraps

For a long time, I found it genuinely difficult not to have a meal without carbs. I used to think this was the West of Ireland in me......... 'a dinner's not a dinner without a spud' and all that ........but as my lunchtime soup also seemed naked without a fat roll on the side and I couldn't contemplate enjoying a casserole without a line of thick doughy dumplings weighing it down,  I now realise it was more to do with my greed than my roots.

And carbs are great....comforting, filling, soothing....but rarely, I've come to realise, constituting the real essence of a dish. I still have them (more than often too many of them) but they are no longer compulsory . I  can now enjoy an omelette without the two once-customary slabs of toast on the side and have even been known to eat my curries with a side of greens instead of rice (brussels sprouts being a particular source of horror to my boyfriend). For me, it's really less about weight management than getting a much needed vitamin injection when I feel its required.

                                             I adore these lazy ginger and garlic jars

These Thai lettuce wraps I made on Monday are incredibly tasty and surprisingly filling. The lettuce here isn't a compromise, however. When you taste them, you'll realise that nothing else would do.

I feel healthier just looking at it

Thai Lettuce Wraps

for the filling:

400g lean minced pork
1-2 tbs oil
2 tbs fish sauce
2 red chillis, finely chopped
1tsp each of 'lazy' garlic and ginger(from a jar, shock horror!)
2tbs light brown sugar
handful mangetout

To serve
a pile of iceberg lettuce leaves.
2tbs salted roasted peanuts
2 spring onions, chopped
lots of finely chopped mint and coriander
lime segments

Heat the oil in a pan until quite hot and fry the ginger and garlic pastes and chilli for one minute.

Add the pork mince and mangetout and fry until the meat is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes).

Add the sugar and fish sauce (I like lots, you might like to add a bit less) and cook for approx 1 minute.

Serve alongside with all the other bits and bobs and get wrapping.